Lewis Biggs – The City as a Patron – I am the architect, this is unacceptable, this is not happening – Artists’ Strategies for Working in Public: Learning from Practice – Symposium – House of an Art Lover – GI Festival – Wednesday 25th April 2012

INTRODUCTION

– Art is not solipsism, it is a social activity. Art only becomes art when there is a dialogue in place therefore it must be social.

– The relationship between the patron and the artist is a social exchange as both parties have needs and/or resources. Patrons and artists need a dialogue as councils are slow on the uptake and the patron gives the freedom for the artist to push his boundaries.

– If the patron is an individual it is much easier to organise an event but you need to maintain a good relationship with them. For example the Serpentine Pavilion is funded by an anonymous patron.

– Even in committees and councils there tends to be an individual who makes the event happen and drives the administration and legalities.

– Even though you need patrons and committees you also need champions of art, therefore people with no funding behind them but speak on behalf of the community and the need for public art.

– Biggs then followed to use case studies to illustrate these points from his time as organiser of the Liverpool Biennial.

LIBRARY

– Artists are researchers therefore public art in the library must be valued and acknowledged due to its fundamental aspect in the development of the art and public art projects in the community.

– The staff of the library facilitate the Biennial as they want to draw more people into the space and public work will do that.

PARKS AND TEMPORARY SPACES

– There is an opportunity for developing parks and unoccupied spaces into public works.

– There is a need for playgrounds in city environments, the issue is that councils are hesitant to build something permanent due to cost and health and safety issues.

– Jeppe Hein developed the piece Loop Bench in 2006 for the Liverpool Biennial. This piece was a large slide in a development site next to a housing estate and offered a temporary play space to the local residents and children.

– The fact that the work is temporary is not a bad thing. The ten week biennial is long enough to place something or an idea in the public’s imagination.

– There is a sense in England that permanence is more important than beauty. This should not be an issue as art can be more of a gesture than a lasting work. Not only is this easier in terms of cost and planning but it means there is more opportunity for developing exciting spaces within a city environment.

TOURISM

– Art and tourism in a city is an important relationship as public art can be used to attract tourists and create economic prosperity for a city.

– Tourists are very interested in the heritage of a city so public work is often focused on this and there is much debate as how artists represent this theme in their work.

– A piece in the 2004 Biennial titled Liverpool Underground offered tourists and locals a chance to go on a guided tour consisting of spaces that no longer existed but were of historic relevance or importance. Therefore the views from outside the coach were not the same as the buildings or places being described. This is an inventive was of combining the heritage of a city into a performance work by an artist.

– Another example of using a city’s heritage is by the Artist Rigo 23 where he placed cages over the four statues of lions in the city.

– This was not only an interesting statement but also was inventive when dealing with council authorities as the work did not technically interfere with the original statues.

– The piece offered an opportunity for public involvement, for example a mysterious resident began leaving cat food out daily for the lions and a local pub began printing t-shirts with the slogan ‘free the liverpool four’.

– Tatsurou Bashi’s 2002 work Villa Victoria also used a heritage asset. Bashi in collaboration with a hotel chain offered residents a chance to rent a room and stay the night at monument of Victoria. The room was only rented for one night periods at a time and was free to visit during the day.

– In public work there is a sense of themetisation of the city. This means that the ancestral industries have died out so can only be referred to retrospectively through public work. These works also bring the museums and issues of privatising public space to the audience’s attention and the attention of the wider public and press.

TRANSPORT

– Transport is an important issue in any urban environment and should not be ignored by artists. It is a great concept offering artists many creative opportunities and ideas within it.

– Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport had a series of text based works places on the walls and exterior from Lennon’s song Imagine. The work is a peace statement and particularly relevant as many members of military services use the airport to travel to tours and war torn countries.

– Another example of art and transport during the Biennial is when the local community buses were painted by painters from Panama, making them more colourful and cheerful works.

SHOPS

– Retail units are desperate for publicity and therefore there is much scope for public art works in these spaces.

– In 2007 Frank Scurti completed a series of works titled Winter Lights: Jackpot. These works consisted of phrases that the local community had voted for through Scurti’s work with the community. the work consisted of neon signs that flashed and would read out the phrase when the ‘jackpot’ was hit.

– The media is very content hungry so an artist decided to turn public opinion into a pie chart which could be used as a seat in the public shopping areas.

– Similarly to this the collective A-APE used abandoned urban spaces to present visible virals. These consisted of large painted facts and percentages such as ‘Do you feel lonely?’. They also developed a website where the public could add their opinion to the percentages and the questions making it a multi platform piece of public work.

POTENTIAL OF A SPACE

– A key thing that public art work can do is show the potential of a public space and turn it into a truly valuable community asset.

– As part of the Biennial a street amphitheatre was set up offering residents a chance to see live poetry, music and theatre and for the local people to present their creative skills.

HIGH STREET

– The high street is often a contested space as anyone who walks down it feels like they own it which technically they could.

– As part of the Biennial Yoko Ono presented a work titled My Mummy was Beautiful , where she placed large banners, badges and bags on the high street with photographs of parts of woman associated to birth, for example nipples, a vagina, a stomach. There was much controversy over the piece but the council let it stay up as long as Lewis Biggs took the blame for the work.

– It is important for cities to challenge the prejudices of a city and show them to the public so they can be resolved and worked upon.

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